Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. UCLA Bruins: Complete Game Preview
Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini doesn't want to call it revenge.
After the Huskers' 36-30 loss to UCLA last year, it's hard to call it much else. Touted as the most high-profile game of Nebraska's non-conference schedule, there is a lot riding on who leaves victorious.
This is the 12th time the Huskers and the Bruins will face off. Nebraska holds a 6-5 advantage in the series. According to Huskers.com, the Huskers own a 4-1 edge in games played in Lincoln. The most recent win to come in Memorial Stadium was in 1994.
It may have been nearly 20 years since Nebraska beat UCLA at home, but the Huskers are projected as a 4.5-point favorite. Can the Huskers come away victorious and get revenge on 2012's loss to the Bruins?
Where: Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb.
When: Saturday, Sept. 14, at 12 p.m. EST
Listen: Husker Sports Network or Sirius Channel 91, XM 91
Betting Line: Nebraska (-4.5)
Nebraska's Keys to Victory
1. Clock Management
Time management will be crucial. With the possibility of this game turning into a track meet, the team that is able to make the best use of the clock in the final minutes will have the best chance to win.
Nebraska better be ready to expertly play the time game.
2. Defense, Defense, Defense
It’s time to see just what the Nebraska Blackshirts are all about. After a rough showing against Wyoming, allowing more than 600 yards of offense, the Huskers' defense pulled it together for a much better showing against Southern Miss. While promising, it’s still worrisome to know which Nebraska defense will show up against UCLA.
UCLA's Brett Hundley is a talented quarterback. He threw for 274 yards and two touchdowns against Nevada. Cornerbacks Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Ciante Evans will need to be prepared to defend the pass. The defense won't be perfect, but the more pressure they can put on the UCLA offense, the better.
3. Crowd Noise
The Nebraska student section has called for a “Black Out,” a proposal endorsed by Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez. What this mostly calls for is fan involvement that will create a challenging environment for UCLA. There is no denying the Huskers have an advantage playing at home, so Memorial Stadium needs to be electric.
Wear black and be loud. It’s a simple thing to ask of fans, but it could have a major impact on the outcome of the game.
UCLA's Keys to Victory
1. Contain Martinez
UCLA head coach Jim Mora has called Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez a dynamic player. He also has credited the senior for keeping plays alive.
Keeping Martinez from running will be a major focus for UCLA. If given the opportunity, Martinez will break free and find room to run. An excellent scrambler, the Huskers rely on Martinez to make the decision to go if the opportunity presents itself. Remove the opportunity and it does nothing but benefit the Bruins.
2. Forget the Past
UCLA’s victory over Nebraska in 2012 was a big one. It sprung the Bruins into the Top 25 for the first time since the 2007 season. It also set up a successful run in Pac-12 play.
However, none of that matters now.
It is a new ballgame on Saturday, and UCLA needs to put 2012 in the past. To win in 2013, the Bruins will need to take what they learned about the Huskers from the previous win and apply it to the game in front of them.
Memorial Stadium now boasts more than 90,000 fans. Come Saturday, those fans will be on their feet supporting the Huskers. Nebraska fans will be out to make the stadium as deafening as possible.
This will require Jim Mora and crew to communicate efficiently. Keep the communication in check and the crowd noise shouldn’t be a big issue. Let it take over the conversation and it’s a slippery slope from there.
Players to Watch from Nebraska
1. Taylor Martinez (QB, Senior)
Somehow quarterback Taylor Martinez keeps ending up on the "Players to Watch" list. He's arguably the top player to keep an eye on, though. This game will play a major role in how Martinez is remembered by Nebraska. Seem harsh?
Huskers fans have been critical of Martinez and his decision-making over the years. While there have been moments of uncertainty, the senior quarterback has grown as a leader and player in his four years as a starter.
In 2012, Martinez threw for 179 yards and ran for another 112 in the 36-30 loss against UCLA. Expect Martinez to do what is needed to secure the win, whether it’s with his arm or his legs.
2. Randy Gregory (DE, Sophomore)
Once again, the JUCO transfer finds himself on the must-watch list. After a solid first showing against Wyoming (where he nearly was credited with a sack of Cowboy quarterback Brett Smith), Gregory continued to prove against Southern Miss that he is a tough defensive player.
Nebraska media members made jokes about Gregory lining up wherever he saw fit. It was true, though. By a certain point in the matchup with the Golden Eagles, Gregory was going wherever he needed to go to make the stop. He’ll be a challenge for Hundley.
For a full depth chart, click here.
Players to Watch from UCLA
1. Brett Hundley (QB, Redshirt Sophomore)
Nebraska is all too familiar with quarterback Brett Hundley. During last year’s matchup, Hundley passed for 305 yards and four touchdowns, leading to a 36-30 win.
Against Nevada in UCLA’s season opener, Hundley continued to impress, racking up 274 passing yards that resulted in two touchdowns. While Hundley can run, his sweet spot is definitely his passing ability. If given the opportunity, he’ll make the most of it.
While players around him have graduated, Hundley continues to lead a strong offense. He’ll be a force to be reckoned with for the young Nebraska defense.
2. Shaquelle Evans (WR, Senior)
Senior wide receiver Shaquelle Evans is the leading returning receiver for the Bruins. In 2012, he made 60 receptions for 877 yards. In his first opportunity against Nevada, Evans led the team with six receptions for 81 yards and one touchdown.
Needless to say, Evans will be the focus of Nebraska’s secondary. Keeping Evans from being a target for Hundley would be a big help to the Huskers as they look to limit the productivity of the Bruins.
For a full depth chart, click here.
What Are They Saying?
Nebraska Coach Bo Pelini
On the death of UCLA wide receiver Nick Pasquale:
I speak for everybody associated with the University of Nebraska in offering our condolences to Nick Pasquale and his family [as well as] UCLA and everyone associated with their program dealing with the tragedy that they are dealing with. That’s a lot bigger than any football game. The thoughts and prayers of everyone associated with Nebraska are with Nick, Nick’s family, Coach [Jim] Mora, the football team and everyone associated with UCLA in getting through this because obviously this has got to be a very difficult time for them.
On Nebraska's loss to UCLA in 2012:
We had a lot of missed tackles in that football game. I remember going back over that game, it was almost 300 yards of offense after first contact. We need to improve in that area. That’s kind of what their offense is built on—creating space and creating one-on-one opportunities for their guys. That’s their main philosophy.
On preparation for UCLA this season:
We have a lot more film on kind of what they do and our understanding of what they do. They’re a good football team. They’re sound in what they do.
On using young talent:
Biggest mistake I made last year was redshirting some of these (current) redshirt freshmen. You look at that and say, ‘I screwed it up.’ I’m not scared to say it. When I look back, I wish I would’ve done it differently.
Redshirt Freshman Linebacker Michael Rose
On what Pelini has said about UCLA:
He said, 'They’re' coming in our house and we owe them.' And he’s right. Our only focus right now is getting prepared for UCLA.
Senior Defensive End Jason Ankrah
On the alternative Adidas uniforms for Saturday's matchup:
I always wanted to wear the black. It would’ve been cool if it was all-black, but I’m just fine with the black jerseys and the white helmets. It looks neat. I’m excited to wear them this weekend.
All quotes are courtesy of Nebraska's weekly press conference, via Huskers.com.
This is going to be a close and high-scoring affair. Don't expect to see either team's punter much.
A benefit of this matchup for the Bruins is that they've had a bye week to rest up after defeating Nevada 58-20. However, the Huskers definitely have the advantage when it comes to the kickoff time. There is no denying the 12 p.m. EST kickoff (making it 9 a.m. on the West Coast) will be a little challenging for the Bruins, no matter how much they prepare for it.
Defensively, both Nebraska and UCLA have their struggles and question marks. Against Wyoming, the Huskers allowed more than 600 yards of offense. While the Southern Miss matchup showed improvement, it's important to remember it was a team that was on a 13-game losing streak prior to visiting Lincoln, Neb.
It's still a little early to assess UCLA's defense. However, it did allow 20 points and 353 yards to Nevada. How that translates on the field against Nebraska has yet to be seen.
Ultimately, this game will come down to time management. Both quarterbacks will do everything they can to keep their team ahead. There is no doubt both teams will be ahead at one point or another. Who will ultimately come out ahead? Pay attention to the clock.
Prediction: Nebraska 45, UCLA 41
For complete team coverage and everything Huskers, you can follow Erin on Twitter at @erinsorensen.